Before I start, I would like to wish everyone a Happy Thanksgiving and hope you all have plenty to be thankful for.
The middle of the week was really warm. Sunny days with high temperatures around 70 and overnight lows only in the fifties is what we are supposed to have this time of year and they are certainly welcome. It is getting cold as I write this and is supposed to be cold Friday, cool Saturday and then warm again into next week. The winds are supposed to be light too, so fishing should be good. With this weather, inside and surf water temperatures in the low sixties and offshore water temps ranging from the high sixties into the seventies, any fish you find should be feeding.
Regular readers have heard my concerns about speckled trout all fall. I'm not going to say I have forgotten my concerns, but the numbers and sizes of trout we are seeing right now are making me feel a little better. I spoke with several fishery managers in the last week and all of them are pleasantly surprised with what we are seeing this fall. Of course, like me, they wonder where these fish were all summer.
The great numbers of 10 to 13 inch fish many fishermen are seeing are the young of the year. These fish were spawned in May and June and there had to be some adult trout to make them. Trout can usually spawn the first time somewhere between 12 and 14 inches.
The 16 to 20 inch fish trout are second year fish and should have spawned for the first time earlier this year. Those few trout that are 22 to 25 or so inches are third year fish and survived both of the past two cold winters.
Most trout larger than 26 inches are more than three years old and are the senior citizens of the trout world. However, these fish are still prolific spawners and it is good to have them in the population. This is why the former (yes, former – stay tuned) trout regulations only allowed keeping two specks longer than 24 inches.
The Wounded Warriors Fishing Club and I were invited to fish with Capt. Allen Jernigan of Breadman Ventures, www.breadmanventures.com, in Sneads Ferry during the last week. Capt. Allen said he was going to take us to some spots in creeks that were on Camp Lejeune and show us what could be caught on base. Man did he do it well.
I met Capt. Allen when he donated a couple of fishing trips to be raffled during the fundraiser for the South Brunswick High School Aquaculture Class. He specializes in flounder gigging charters and does it well for experienced giggers or beginners who are spending their first night on the water. He also does hook and line fishing and puts those clients on the action too.
We really only fished in two creeks and both were on Camp Lejeune. We spent most of the morning in the first creek and caught mainly trout. I don't know the number we caught, but we kept 15 and released quite a few more than that. Some were right at being legal, but we released them without measuring them. Capt. Allen had suggested we shouldn't keep anything under 16 inches and not then if they weren't good healthy fish.
We actually moved to the second creek to try to catch some flounder, but continued to catch trout. We caught five or more flounder, but most were short or just legal so we only kept a single one that was 16 inches.
Before I move on, I'm going to give Capt. Allen's secret. He fishes a four inch Berkley Gulp Shrimp in the pearl color on a 1/4 ounce After Shock Jig Head by Blue Water Candy. What he does different is put the shrimp on the jig head upside down. He said this bait doesn't have any action, so it doesn't really matter how it is hooked. However, he was very specific and put it on so a lot of the hook was exposed.
I believe it matters to him, but can't figure out exactly why. I know it worked and for some reason we were catching trout that were larger than the boats around us. Sometimes you have to relax and just do something that is working without wondering why. We did and the results were excellent.
New regulations for speckled trout became effective at 12:01 A.M. on Nov. 14. The new regulations for trout allow keeping four fish per person per day, with a minimum size of 14 inches. There is no longer a special provision for only keeping two trout larger than 24 inches.
Puppy drum are biting and anyone who thinks catching these little bulldogs isn't fun should schedule a doctor's visit and see what is wrong with them. Even a small puppy drum will make a run or two and fight all the way to the boat.
While puppy drum usually bite all summer, the cooling water has gotten them really active. They have gotten spunky too and appear to be fighting even more than usual. You better have good line and be able to tie knots well.
Puppy drum are also starting to school in the cooling water. In warmer water you may only find onesies and twosies, but when you find the pups now there should be at least several in the area. This will continue through the winter until the water begins to warm in the spring.
While they are still being caught, flounder catches are beginning to taper off. Many larger flounder are moving toward the inlets and will eventually move into the ocean and spend the winter there. Smaller flounder often "mud up" and spend the winter inshore, but buried up to several inches in soft bottoms.
Capt. Allen said he isn't surprised to catch flounder all winter and actually expects to in some creeks. He said they don't all leave for the ocean and those flounder that stay inside may not hit as strong, but are more aggressive. He likes to fish for them with the same Gulp baits as for trout and said you can set the hook as soon as you feel them.
Capt. Jeff Crank, of NC Charter Fishing, www.nccharterfishing.com, in Swansboro, said he was still catching good numbers of flounder on the near shore rocks and live bottom areas in the ocean. Capt. Jeff also said that depending on the stage of the tide, they were adding some reds and trout in the Swansboro marshes on their way to or from Bogie Inlet.
The limit for gray trout is a single fish with a minimum size of 12 inches and you should be able to add that limit to your catch in the Morehead City Turning Basin, in the ocean just off the beach from the Beaufort Inlet Ship Channel up to the buoy off the end of the Cape Lookout Jetty, at Johns Creek Rock, Sheepshead Rock, the WOFES and Yaupon Reef.
While some days are much better than others, surf fishing is good in many areas. The key is to find a beach with a prominent slough between the beach and the first bar. There are puppy drum, large red drum, black drum, flounder, sea mullet, bluefish and more. There are still some restrictions at Cape Lookout National Seashore because of damage from Hurricane Irene. Check the Cape Lookout National Seashore website at www.nps.gov/calo for the current information.
Several fishermen said the number of fish caught from the piers is dropping, but they were more than making up for it in size. Pier fishermen have been catching nice slot puppy drum, speckled trout, black drum and sea mullet. Some flounder are still being caught from the piers as are gray trout, bluefish and sheep head. Call ahead to get current information as piers will begin closing during the next week.
King mackerel are gone from the beach for the year. The options seem to be heading straight out to the rocks and wrecks in 80 to 110 feet of water. The hot spot off Cape Lookout last week was chicken Rock, off Cape Fear was the Horseshoe and off Cape Hatteras was the Bad Bottom.
The larger boats have been going offshore in the windier conditions, but when the wind laid out last weekend many smaller boats headed offshore too. The reports said the wahoo bite was better Saturday than Sunday and then got hot again during the week. In addition to Wahoo, there were reports of lots of black fin tuna, a few yellow fin tuna, some scattered dolphin and a couple of sailfish.
Offshore bottom fishing is going well also, but fishermen should be aware that black sea bass and beeline (vermilion snapper) seasons are closed. This is almost as simple as finding a rock, wreck, ledge or something that is holding fish and dropping baited hooks down to them. At that point is becomes a matter of culling through the fish to find limits that are legal. Several fishermen reported good bottom catches over the weekend in water 80 to 100 feet deep. The species that can be kept include gag, red and black groupers, pinkies (red porgy), grunts, porgies and triggerfish.
The South Atlantic Fisheries Management Council (SAFMC) has scheduled a series of public meetings regarding the stock assessment for black sea bass and Amendments 18A and 20A to the Snapper-Grouper Fishery Management Plan. One of those meetings was Nov. 14 in North Myrtle Beach, but Carolinians get another chance as the final meeting will be the first part of the SAFMC December 5 to 9 meeting in Raleigh. The information and comments gathered at the public meetings will also be presented to the SAFMC at their December meeting.
SAFMC is also soliciting comments regarding Annual Catch Limits (Calls) and Accountability Measures (Ames) for king mackerel, Spanish mackerel and cobia. Amendment 18A addresses this and was published in the federal register on Oct. 24. Comments may be sent by mail, fax or e-mail, but must be received by this Monday, Nov. 21, at 5:00 P.M. Information on the rule and how to send comments is available at the SAFMC website, www.safmc.net.
With the excellent weekend weather, the tournament schedule got back on track and there is lots of tournament news this week. The Gordy McAdams Speckled Trout Surf Fishing Tournament began Oct. 22 and will continue through Dec. 3 in Emerald Isle. The leading trout at this time is a 3.68 pounder that was 21.5 inches long and was caught by Gary Mohorn. All trout must be caught on foot on Bogue Banks. For more information visit www.emeraldisle-nc.org/eiprd.
Frank Plisko continues to lead the 2011 Chasin' Tails Speckled Trout Challenge with a 3.71 pounder caught last week. With larger trout showing every week, that fish is already in danger of being passed. Fellow competitors have until Dec. 31 to best it and may register until Dec. 26. There is a special Wild Card Weight each month and for November that is 3.41 pounds. The monthly wild card winners receive a new trout fishing outfit for that. For more information visit www.chasintailsoutdoors.com.
The fall version of Martini's Hook-A-Hoo wahoo tournament began Nov. 4 and will continue through Nov. 19. Fishermen may only fish one of the days and registration remains open until Nov. 18. Weigh-ins are at Wrightsville Beach Marina in Wrightsville Beach and South Harbor Village Marina in Oak Island. Proceeds from the tournament will be donated to the Shriner Hospitals of the Carolinas. The leader at my deadline is a 63 pounder that was caught by Chris "Critter" Critz of Critter Sportfishing in Holden Beach. For more information visit www.hookahoorodeo.com or call 910-512-1089.
The Veteran's Day Specks and Spots Kayak Fishing Tournament was held from the Federal Point Ramp at Fort Fisher on Saturday, Nov. 12. This tournament, which is presented by the North Carolina Kayak Fishing Association to benefit the Camp Lejeune Wounded Warriors Fishing Club, is based on the combined length of each fisherman's longest speckled trout and red drum.
While the day started very cool, 31 kayakers entered the tournament and set out to break a sweat scouring the waters of the Basin, Second Bay and Buzzard Bay in search of big drum and trout. Several fishermen did well and the final results were close. Matt Frazier paced the field with 36-3/4 inches from an 18-1/2 inch redfish and an 18-1/4 inch speckled trout. Frazier won a Kajun Kayak from KC Kayaks.
Second place went to Adam Almond, who caught 35 inches total, with a 16-1/2 inch redfish and an 18-1/2 inch trout. Jeff Asher finished third only 1/8 of an inch behind Almond. His redfish was 14-7/8 inches and his trout was 20 inches. Asher's trout was the largest trout of the tournament. The largest drum of the tournament was 23-1/2 inches and was caught by NCKFA founder Mark Patterson, who unfortunately didn't catch a trout to go with it. For more information visit www.nckfa.com.
The Flat Bottom Girls Flounder Tournament that was originally scheduled for Nov. 5 was held Saturday, Nov. 12 at Dockside Marina in Wrightsville Beach. This tournament collects live flounder to be used in the hatcheries at UNCW, NCSU and South Brunswick High School. Proceeds from the tournament are donated to Fish for Tomorrow and the hatchery programs.
A dozen boats participated in the tournament and seven of them donated 15 fish to the flounder hatchery at UNCW. The winner was Dan Spencer, on the Trigger Happy, with a 3.40 pound flounder. Just a tenth of a pound behind, Gary Hurley, on Fisherman's Post, caught a 3.30 pounder to finish second. Sam Daughtry caught a 1.90 pounder on the Parker and finished in third place.
Jennifer Gautier earned Top Lady Angler honors with a 1.20 pound flounder. The Kay Crocker Award, which is given in honor of Kay Crocker to someone who exemplifies service to the community and dedication to the resource, was given to Jon Hargett for 2011. For more information visit www.fishfortomorrow.org.
The Tackle Box King Mackerel Tournament was held Nov. 12 from the Tackle Box Tavern in Morehead City. There were 35 boats that competed and 12 of them weighed fish. The proceeds from the sale of the fish will be donated to the Atlantic Beach Parks and Recreation Department.
The winner in the Largest Fish Division was the Jimmy Mack with Capt. Jimmy Butts and crew who caught a 33.05 pound king. Reel Motivator was second with a 28.95 pounder and Ocean Athlete caught a 27.5 pound king to finish third.
The tournament also had an Aggregate Weight Division. That was also won by the Jimmy Mack, who added a 24.80 pound king to total 57.85 pounds. The Far Fetched was second with a pair of kings that weighed 34.80 pounds.
The IFA-Hobie Kayak Tour Championship was held Nov. 11 and 12 in Chalmette, La. Fishermen from multiple divisions along the Atlantic and Gulf Coasts have competed regionally during the year for the right to fish in this tournament. The tournament was based on the combined length of each kayak fisherman's longest red drum and speckled trout from each day.
The winner was Justin Carter of Charleston, S.C. During the year, Carter competed in and won the Atlantic Division, which included tournaments in Surf City, N.C., Charleston, S.C. and Savannah, Ga. During the championship tournament, Carter totaled 105 inches. This included redfish of 30.75 and 40.50 inches and speckled trout of 17.50 and 16.25 inches.
Brendan Bayard, Baton Rouge, La., was the only other kayaker to surpass 100 inches during the tournament. He finished in second place with 101.25 inches. Third place went to Gill Blake, New Orleans, La., who finished with 98.63 inches. For more information visit www.ifakayakfishingtour.com.
The Southern Kingfish Association National Championship Tournament was held over the weekend in Biloxi, Miss., but fishermen there were dogged by the weather we had been having. The week began with a make-up tournament for the Little River, S.C. Pro Tournament that was cancelled. This tournament was held Tuesday, Nov. 8 and fishermen weighed in two fish.
The Big Bad Wolf, with Capt. Stacy Wester, Wilmington, won the make-up tournament with a two-fish aggregate of 92.17 pounds. Second Place went to the Lil Devil, with Capt. Michael Jacquin, Fort Pierce, Fla., who weighed 91.74 pounds. Capt. Ron Mitchell, Port St. Lucie, Fla., and the Bandit finished third with 89.04 pounds.
The SKA National Championship Tournament was actually three tournaments in one. It was two national championship tournaments, one for boats of 27 feet at the waterline and longer (Open Division) and the other for boats shorter than 27 feet at the waterline (Small Boat Division). In addition, it was also the final tournament in the SKA Pro Tour.
Team Ocean Isle Fishing Center, led by Capt. Barrett McMullan, Ocean Isle Beach, won the national championship for large boats with a two-fish aggregate weight of 103.13 pounds. This was Team OIFC's second time to win the championship (also in 2009), but they did it in a unique way. Barrett and Brant McMullan are brothers and boat captains. In 2009, the OIFC captain was Brant McMullan and this year it was Barrett McMullan. They are the first brothers to have SKA National Championship titles and it is also the first time the same team has won with different captains.
The second place boat in the Open Division of the SKA National Championship was the Big Bad Wolf, with Capt. Stacy Wester. Their two fish that weighed 100.60 pounds also gave them the win in the final SKA Pro Tournament and the title of Anglers of the Year.
Third place in the open class went to No Mercy / Dealers Choice from Georgia with 98.03 pounds.
While it is a rarity, sometimes the fishermen in the Small Boat Division catch larger fish than their counterparts in the Open Boat Division. This was one of those years as Capt. Rob Lupola led the Strike Two team to the championship win with a pair of kings that totaled 103.96 pounds. Lupola and crew are from the Northern Gulf of Mexico.
Second Place in the Small Boat division went to the Bluchips, with Capt. Radford Brown and crew from N.C. Their two fish totaled 88.87 pounds. Third place was claimed by the Slack Time with 86.30 pounds. For more information visit www.fishska.com.
Two tournaments are slated for this weekend. One is the Battle on the Neuse, formerly named the Neuse River Backwater Open. It was a weather casualty from October 29 and will be held Saturday, Nov. 19 in New Bern. This tournament benefits Tryon Palace and features, speckled trout, flounder, red drum and striper. For more information visit www.sportsmanstoystore.com.
The other tournament is the Sound of Freedom Speckled Trout Tournament presented by the Havelock/Cherry point Rotary Club. The captains meeting and weigh-in will be at Crabby Patty's Restaurant and Raw Bar in Havelock. For more information visit www.havelockcherrypointrotary.org.
Happy Thanksgiving and Good Fishing